The dominant Fairfield University volleyball team secured the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship for the third year in a row. The Stags took down the Rider University Broncs at the UHY Center, beating them 3-0. Junior outside hitter KJ Johnson received Championship MVP for her outstanding efforts on the court. The team is 24-8 overall this season, maintaining an 11-3 record at home at 16-2 in conference play.
The fall season marks head coach Todd Kress’s eighth season of his second term with the Stags and his 12th overall campaign. Coach Kress is a six-time MAAC champion and seven-time MAAC Coach of the Year. Kress is the all-time leader in wins (234) and matches coached (337) at Fairfield University. He also ranks second in program history with a .694 winning percentage. Kress has also led the volleyball programs at Northern Illinois University, Florida State University and the University at Buffalo.
Coach Kress was pleased with the outcome of Sunday’s championship game, as they were eliminated from last year’s championship due to a positive COVID test on the squad.
“I think just the fact that number one we had the opportunity to play this year, and then took advantage of that opportunity. We were pushed by both Siena [College] and Canisius in the Quarterfinals and Semis, and then I thought we played a clean match against Rider to win the championship.”
Coach Kress continued, “We showed a lot of resiliency […] We didn’t play our best volleyball Friday and Saturday, we were just off a little bit. We weren’t in rhythm offensively, but we found that rhythm on Sunday in the championship game […] We had our best hitting percentage of the season, so kind of saved our best for last, so to speak.”
Kress pushes his student-athletes to work through hardships as a team, and it translates through gameplay results. “When you can not play your best and still find ways to win, I think that shows signs of a very mature, resilient team. That is what I am very proud of this past weekend.”
Despite the team’s enormous success this season, the team has faced its own set of challenges. Kress explains, “Whenever you go through a season, there are always challenges. You’re going to have injuries, you’re going to have student-athletes not at 100 percent […]”
However, the team’s efforts revolve around the theme of resilience. “It’s like you’re a family […] Whatever affects one of our athletes affects the entire team […]We found a way to manage those this year and found a way to stay on top, and I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to do that,” Kress stated.
The next step for the Stags is the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship In Los Angeles, California where they will be going up against the #13-seeded University of California, Los Angeles. Coach Kress discusses preparation for the game, saying “UCLA is a very good program, one of the top programs historically in the country […] This is a huge opportunity for our student-athletes […] We are going in with a lot of upperclassmen. KJ is a huge part of what we do offensively. Junior Laura Seeger is playing very well right now, [Graduate student] Manuela Nicolini is an extension off of the bench as a coach, so there are a lot of things that I like about what we can throw at UCLA […] We are going to have to be at our absolute best.”
Coach Kress summed up the goals for the team, saying, “Be the best version of ourselves every day, that’s all I can ask for. When we went into the match Friday night, I just asked that they go in there and scratch and claw and do whatever we can to earn points and to be our absolute best […] at least give ourselves the opportunity, in the end, to pull out something maybe a lot of people don’t think we can do [..] If they do that, more often than not we’re gonna be on the right side of the ledger.”
The team will head to the Golden State on Friday, Dec. 3 for the NCAA Championship at 10:00 p.m. ET.